Author: Sue Ahrendt

Return to Gabimichigami


When she was younger, Carmon was a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters.  She dreamed that she would someday find a guy who would be willing to take a honeymoon in the BWCAW.   She found a good one, —and one of the lakes she and Darrin enjoyed the most during that honeymoon, a few years back, was Gabimichigami.


Pepper (pink) and Gabi


Well, that was two beautiful children ago—and this summer it was time to return to Tuscarora, to introduce their girls to the Boundary Waters.  In fact, they plan to camp on Gabimichigami on July 11th—to celebrate Gabi’s 13th birthday.

The gave a paddle salute as they headed out in the Northshore canoe on this beautiful July day.  These are really happy people on their way to a special place.


IMG_0196 Here’s another photo of Pepper and Gabi.

Cheers to this happy family, making new memories on Gabimichigami!

It’s a Beautiful Portage!

It’s a beautiful portage.

That became our mantra for the Paulsen portage which connects Seagull Lake to Paulsen Lake.  A beastly 515 rod portage with such mystique that it even has a “formerly known as” moniker, The Jap Portage.  Every time the vertical incline seemed to reached it’s vertical asymptote one of us would yell… “It’s a beautiful portage!”.  Every time the trail crossed the creek on dicy looking glacial granite that liked to shift as soon as weight was applied… “It’s a beautiful portage!”  Every time the swarming mass of tiny vampires found a hole in the head net… “It’s a beautiful portage!”  You get the idea.


View of Seagull Lake from the portage


Blue Flag iris on Flying Lake

But you know what the kicker of all that is?  It really is a beautiful portage.  Every climb is rewarded with sweeping views of Seagull Lake or some nameless pond blushing with yellow water lilies.  The babbling brook that likes to tug at our ankles is fringed with Blue Flag iris.  And along the whole portage, Lucy’s boundless enthusiasm for her first official camping adventure was evident as she covered more than 3 times the ground we did with her little pack bouncing.

Lucy with her backpack

Lucy with her backpack

However, 515 rods is a long way and by the end we were all really glad to see that lake.  With one more shout of “it’s a beautiful portage!” we quickly loaded up to find our campsite for the night.  The campsite on the north side is spacious with plenty of open rocks to clamber around on.  We chose the island site for the two of us giving Lucy an island to explore where she might not get in as much trouble.  The trail to the latrine is a bit treacherous, the tent pad is decently flat, and the fire grate area had a great view.  Lucy split her time between exploring the island and watching a pair of loons fish.  The sunset over calm water on a quiet night just can’t be beat.  The wolves sang us to sleep.

Sunset over Paulsen

Sunset over Paulsen

Campsite on Paulsen

Campsite on Paulsen

The next morning we headed south starting with Paulsen then Glossy, Elusion, Glee, Bingshick, Flying, Gotter, Brant, Edith, West Round, and finally back home on Round Lake.  Not going to lie, if you take away the sugar coating, these were some vertically challenging portages.  I spent a lot of time looking at my feet focusing on each step so as not to lean back accidentally and be pulled back down the trail by my turtle shell of a pack.  But I like watching the ground go by, you see some neat stuff that way.  Like wolf scat, Lucy paw prints in the mud, and TONS of little green blueberries just waiting to ripen in the July sunshine.

Paddling on Glossy Lake

Paddling on Glossy Lake





If you watch your feet too closely, you can take a wrong turn heading into Bingshick.  The portage crosses the Kekekabic Trail which can turn a quick 53 rod portage into a 4 mile hike.  We stopped for lunch on one of the two campsites.  Both are designed to service hikers on the Kek so they are set a little further back from the water.  The west campsite where we had lunch has plenty of space and showed evidence of little use.  Bingshick is a quiet little lake out of the way of major canoe travel with a fishy little secret.  It is stocked with stream trout.

Taking a wrong turn down the Kek

Taking a wrong turn down the Kek

The rest of the lakes are small and quiet, perfect for spotting the back end of a black bear as it slips into the woods.  The pitcher plants and sundews were out in abundance in the boggy backwaters.  Both are carnivorous plants which I’m sure are doing very well this year feeding on all the insects.  And there is a major benefit of starting your trip off with a 515 rod portage…we did not meet another soul the whole trip.  The woods were ours to explore, even though it was a beautiful Friday in June.

Pitcher plants

Pitcher plants

Pitcher plant flowers

Pitcher plant flowers



All in all, not a bad little trip for a quick overnight.  Lots of seclusion, wildlife sightings, the promise of blueberries to come and one happy little puppy.  Just goes to show, if you are willing to put in a little effort portaging, you can find yourself a nice little corner of the BWCA regardless of the time you  have.

Lucy says "Safety first!  Wear your life jackets."

Lucy says “Safety first! Wear your life jackets.”






An Afternoon on Crocodile

My friend Mike was planning a canoe trip last winter—and he asked me what I knew about Crocodile Lake….because I’m an outfitter.  I’d heard some about the walleyes in Crocodile…I sort of knew the general area of that entry point.  But in the end, I hadn’t been there.  To be fair, it was winter, and in the winter I’m a teacher.
But now it’s summer, and since Mike is actually coming to Tuscarora with another dad and their sons—I thought I ought to know about Crocodile…because in the summer, I’m an outfitter.  And I also thought our outfitting manager ought to know about Crocodile, and our outfitting manager’s dog Mack also ought to learn how to get in a canoe.

How to load the boat It’s just a bonus that the outfitting manager happens to be our son Daniel, and since I can never get enough time with him in a boat in this lifetime, and since it was a sunny day—we thought we should go and get to know Crocodile.

I dutifully took note of the East Bearskin parking lot/landing, I paid attention to the map, and the campsites.  The portage was 100 and something rods, it was slightly muddy…but then, somewhere in the middle of that portage, I started losing details, and just falling into that canoe trip rhythm.  That unload, portage, load, paddle…. the sparkle of the sun on the waves.  The lake was basically water, rocks, and trees—just like that last lake.  But this is precisely what I love about it.

Fishing Crocodile
We fished a little, we didn’t catch the walleye—then again, it was a hot day, around noon…it was really all about the casting and reeling, and steady conversation.  At one point Daniel wanted to know the year Andy and I first started coming up here.  He really wanted to pinpoint the source—he is so grateful for having landed in this section of woods, for growing up in this rhythm.

Mack First trip

I know exactly how another guest named Ed caught the walleyes in Crocodile last week, slip bobber, 5 feet down, wait for the school.  I know how to get there, I know what campsite I’d go for.  I can now confidently tell Mike about Crocodile—as an outfitter.

But I also was reminded what it IS about that trip.   I got to hang out with my son. I love it that he loves the woods like I do. We chatted long enough to get around to the real stuff, the things that make him happy, the things that make him worry.  We got to be on a lake. We got to paddle some, hike some, carry some. I got a little tired and a little sunburned and a little sore.   I’m confident that Mike and his crew will find the rhythm that they’re looking for in Crocodile.  It’s easy enough to pass on info about the location of campsites and portages and fish.  It’s infinitely harder to communicate what it IS about the rhythm of being in the woods that is so satisfying and…perfect.  I’m not so good at explaining that part–but I sure wish (because I’m an outfitter) that I could give that afternoon on Crocodile to everyone I know—and his/her son, and even a puppy.

-Sue A.

Wash Out

Tom Kaffiene and Tamer

Tom Kaffine with Tamer

The other day Tom Kaffine (above, right) stopped by.  He’s sort of a hero around here. After all, he was basically the founder of our beloved Centennial Trail.  He is not wearing a US Forest Service shirt, but don’t let that fool you. He’s one of them, just like his friend Tamer.

Because the USFS are in charge of the woods around here, we call them whenever anything goes wrong.  If there are fire restrictions, we blame them on the Forest Service.  If there are too many people in the woods, we blame that on the Forest Service.  If there aren’t any people in the woods, we blame that on the Forest Service.  If there is a storm and the trees fall across the portages, we blame that on the Forest Service.  If it rains too much and washes out a latrine or two=blame it on the Forest Service.   Are you getting my drift?

Everybody does it.

When Tom stopped–hoping for a free soda, like Jim Leeds (former owner) used to give him…and to say hello, just on the road–you know, we didn’t really think anything of it. Yet I did not give him the soda, because it would not be good for him. And I believe this is a key detail in the chain of events that followed.

Later in the afternoon a soaked staffer Joe walked back to the office because he couldn’t get the suburban and trailer back down the road–he dropped some guests at Seagull, and in the time he was gone, about 50 yards of the road flooded, one of the culverts was straight up in the air, like a geyser.   Joe’s jeans were wet well above his knees.  We jumped in the truck to do some re-con, and it was cresting even higher– it seemed to me as though another Cross River was flowing down the road.  Whoa, where was all that water coming from?

At that point, it wasn’t feeling safe to ford the rapids, so we returned to the office to call the highway department who started up the Gunflint Trail with their fleet.

Later, when the water had passed, we had a mess of a road left. We did some shuttling of people and supplies. By evening the county had dumped many trucks of sand, and had magically transformed it to passable road again.



≈We were so busy with vehicles and excitement, that it wasn’t until we got a call from a neighbor that we connected Tom Kaffine to the event.  I had to slap the side of my head.  Why didn’t I think of it? It’s just too much of a coincidence, right?  WHERE ELSE could all of the mysterious water come from?

I had to take a closer look at our only evidence.IMG_3774 copy 3Clues:

1.  Look at Tamer’s sincere and honest face.  A clever diversion.

2.  Look at Tom’s right hand…he’s holding something…what is it?  If he were really just after a free soda, why the paperwork?

3.  And look at his left pocket.  How could we have MISSED that detail the first time?


It’s enough for me.  I’m going to have to agree with the neighbors.  I don’t know WHERE he got all that water, but …it just has to connect to the Forest Service somehow….some way….somewhere.  If only I had given him the soda…maybe then…

Well, the road has been repaired with fancy new culverts. And you can bet, we’ll have that soda ready the next time Tom Kaffine drives in.

A Tribute to Denali

You know, it has been a huge honor and responsibility to have another being devote her entire life to our family.

This weekend we had a chance to reflect on the life of Denali.

  She was a great woods-companion for Daniel.

She worked-out with Shelby.

She kept Andy company.


She was tireless retriever.

And she was my faithful girl.

She was so devoted to figuring out what we wanted her to do, and then doing it.  

This morning, she was especially uncomfortable–but when I asked her to follow me into the vet’s office, of course she did her best to comply.  I whispered into her ear—I thanked her for watching out for us, for being such good company, for her absolute loyalty.

I told her we loved her, and that she was a good dog, the best dog.  And then I said goodbye. She took a chunk of each of our hearts with her, that’s for sure.